It has been an intensely difficult winter for the buffalo and those of us who love them. At least 1,300 wild buffalo souls were lost, taken by the rifle and the trap to appease the intolerance of the vocal minority that make up Montana’s cattle industry. The lives of all these buffalo were wasted because those who continue to wage war on the west insist that the land is theirs to do with with as they please, other lives be damned. Thankfully, for now, the killing is over. The trap is closed and the hunters are gone. Spring is here and the snow is melting. Migratory birds such as pelicans, Sandhill cranes, and mountain blue birds have returned early. Grizzly bears are waking up and the grass is turning green. The timing for the buffalo and other grazers could not be better. They suffered a long, hard winter — just the snow conditions alone were enough to kill many — and their haggard bodies are hungry for nutritious grasses. Adult females, bellies huge with calves, are bringing their families to where they will find replenishment and rest.
Buffalo have all but vanished from the Gardiner Basin. Just a few small groups remain, poised to join the other survivors who are heading south to their calving grounds around Blacktail Plateau. Some buffalo will continue further, and come from other places, heading west into the Hebgen Basin and on to Horse Butte and surrounding lands here. Near West Yellowstone, a buffalo nation is coming! And thanks to last year’s enormous victory of gaining year-round habitat in a portion of this basin, our volunteers and local residents are able to celebrate this sacred arrival without the bitter edge that always came with the fear of hazing. This time, the buffalo can roam to Horse Butte and lands north without being threatened by horsemen, law enforcement officers, or helicopters. They can stand on the land they need to, have their babies in peace, and grow strong without being brutally chased by livestock agents for miles on tiny legs. The buffalo families coming to Horse Butte and other lands north of the Madison River now get to choose where they will roam and for how long. Despite these great victories, threats remain.
Those who venture to places south of the Madison River will be subjected to the same mistreatment, as these lands were not included in the Governor’s year-round habitat decision, and they could be subjected to hazing or worse. We are, of course, continuing our work to erase all of these arbitrary lines in the sand and gain more ground for the buffalo so they may roam whatever side of the river they please.
As this celebratory migration takes place, it is keeping BFC busy along the roads. Buffalo must cross the very busy Highway 191 to reach their calving grounds, so we are with them day and night, helping to warn traffic of their presence. Our night patrols are one of the most important activities we undertake. Buffalo are nearly impossible to see at night, so our night patrols are out there for as long as buffalo are on or near the roads. Armed with our reflective emergency signs, flashing “SLOW” paddles, and strobing pink wands, we are able to prevent some of the accidents that occur in the dark of night. But we can’t prevent them all because some people simply choose not to heed our warnings. The nighttime speed limit has been reduced to 55mph, but without enforcement it is meaningless, and there has not been a single state trooper around, even though the state said they were committed to enforcing these more wildlife-friendly speed limits. The permanent signs that the Montana Department of Transportation has put up are good, and likely help, but are easily ignored. That’s another reason our presence is so important; our signs are unique and they are not always there, so people know that when they see them that there are actually buffalo on or near the road. We know we won’t be able to prevent every accident, but we are committed to doing our best, and we will press for safe passage infrastructure so that the buffalo, and all Yellowstone-region wildlife, may get where they are going without the threat of being struck by vehicles. You can help — especially if you’re a Montana resident or frequent visitor to Yellowstone — by contacting the Montana Department of Transportation and urging them to make a stronger commitment to keeping motorists and wild buffalo safe: 406-444-6201. Until safe passage is in place, BFC will be out along the roads doing our best to save lives.
WILD IS THE WAY ~ ROAM FREE!